A law that enables the suspension of more than 213,000 Kansans driver’s licenses, mainly for failure to pay fines and fees, is a bad law. It is even worse when that license suspension requires an additional 90 days suspension after a person has paid the required fees and fines, including a reinstatement fee.
Fortunately, while gridlock continues on some significant issues before the Kansas Legislature, both the House and the Senate advanced bipartisan legislation that would enable more Kansans to get their driver’s licenses out of suspended status.
The need to reform the state’s system for suspending driver’s licenses was highlighted in an investigative series by Pilar Pedraza of Wichita’s KAKE-TV in October. Pedraza got a speeding ticket and unknowingly missed the deadline to pay the fine, prompting a letter from the City of Wichita that said her licenses would be suspended if she didn’t pay the fine immediately. Pedraza paid up and didn’t get a license suspension, but the incident piqued her interest, and she started asking questions.
Her reporting series noted that more than 213,000 Kansans have a suspended license, one of the highest rates in the country. The majority of those 213,000 suspended licenses are because of the nonpayment of fines and court fees.
Pedraza’s story put a face to the need for driver’s license reform, and the Legislature is making progress in fixing some of the issues identified.
Under current state law, once an individual pays all the outstanding fines, penalties and reinstatement fees required to get a license back, driving privileges are still revoked for an additional 90 days.
It is a punitive policy that further restricts Kansans from earning a living, and it must be changed.
Bills passed by both the House and the Senate include the elimination of this waiting period and deserve swift advancement to the governor for her signature.
In addition, the House bill reduced the reinstatement fee from $100 per violation to $25 per case and eliminated the $25 application fee for a restricted license, which grants permission to drive to and from work or medical appointments.
Kansas can't meet its workforce needs if we are suspending driver’s licenses for the inability to pay the fines and fees in full within a narrow window of time. To this end, Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, introduced a bill that would eliminate the ability to suspend a person's license strictly because of their inability to pay the fine. The bill won’t advance this session, but it is a conversation we should continue to have.
How can we expect people to pay their fines if we take away their ability to drive, making getting to and from work more complicated because they couldn’t afford to pay the ticket?
The two bills advanced so far are a necessary first step in reforming our system. We shouldn’t have 213,000 people in the state with a suspended license. Additional reforms require a lot of thoughtfulness and consideration. We aren’t advocating for everyone to have a license, and we understand some situations merit the loss of driving credentials — drunk driving being one of the primary instances.
We also believe that laws should have teeth. That being said, a $100 fine for a person of limited means presents challenges. We need to talk about that and develop solutions that don’t unfairly cripple those earning less by taking away their driving privileges.